Am I taking the wrong approach to disagreement? Let’s face it, even the word itself has negative connotations. Awkward, argumentative, feisty, disagreeable, obtuse. We discourage our children from disagreeing. Don’t answer back, do as you’re told. Don’t argue with me. And yet, I want my children to disagree. In fact, I believe it is one of the most important skills they can learn.
Should children be taught to disagree?
I know, it’s a strange concept. After all, children do nothing but disagree. They never want to do as they’re told and the whining – oh, don’t even talk to me about the whining. But here’s the thing – they have their own opinions. Every single day throughout their lives, they will be faced with things they don’t agree with. It’s how they deal with those things that is important.
Sometimes, they will need to stand up and shout. They’ll see both physical and psychological bullying. They’ll see things that are illegal, dishonest or downright wrong. And in these cases it doesn’t really matter how they disagree, as long as they make themselves heard. But there will also be times when they might put themselves at risk by voicing their disagreement. They should be able to identify situations where they need help to disagree.
Children also need to learn to voice their opinions in more mundane situations. An argument between peers or a difference of opinion within the family. Being able to express themselves in such circumstances will develop the skills they need in later life. They’ll be able to say no to taking on too much work and speak up politely when they don’t like the way things are done. And people will listen to them, because they do it in the right way.
Am I getting it all wrong?
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post with words I want my daughters to hear when they start to doubt themselves. The post included a section about the fact that disagreement is good. But I didn’t think much more about it, until someone contacted me on social media to say that this was something they’d never considered.
And it made me wonder whether I am in the minority. Do you encourage your children to speak up when they don’t like something? Do you listen to their opinion and make sure they know that you’re not always right?
Both of my children are quite outspoken. Libby can be rather bossy when she thinks somebody isn’t complying with the rules. And as for Lia? Well, 99% of the time she’s laid back, placid and easy to get on with. But on the odd occasion somebody upsets her, she can be a bit of a nightmare. Please feel free to tell me what a dreadful mum I am for laughing about it, but my husband upset her the other day and she landed the perfect punch. Right where it hurts.
So is this my fault? Don’t get me wrong, I am strict with them. They don’t get away with much, but I do want them to disagree with me. And I want them to disagree with other people too, because that’s real life. I also believe that knowing their opinion is as valid as anybody else’s is a big part of developing respect for themselves and others.